Breathe Owl Breathe
Music Box @ Fonda - March 11, 2011
Breathe Owl Breathe started the night off right with catchy grooves, chalk full of homemade sound FX, audience participation, and unique lyrical imagery, such as the Dragon who tricks a Princess into becoming his pen pal by developing really good handwriting. A scaled down trio of synths, drums and vocals, with the occasional organic stringed instrument mixed in, they took risks, which the audience warmed to and ultimately embraced. The band was gracious towards their “host” Yann Tiersen, and a bit wistful, as their tour was coming to an end at The Music Box. Despite the couple who stood in front of me and would not stop lapping up each other's tongues for the entire duration of their set, the show was a memorable success.
As they left the stage and I waited between sets, I thought of my father, who currently sits in a hospital bed in San Mateo County. He was also a music reviewer, and obviously since I’m the offspring, he influenced me. But what drives someone to write a music review? Is it bragging rights, the old I heard them first phenomenon? Or is it something more sincere? Well, both really. But on this night, I was operating from a sincere place, a desire to share with others the experience of listening to a musician I had come to admire for his beautiful scores to Amelie and Good Bye, Lenin!, two of my all time favorite movie soundtracks. I wanted like-minded music buffs, who did not have the time, money, or ability to attend themselves, to still share in a slice of the night. After all, each concert hall can only hold a finite number of people.
In contrast to Breathe Owl Breathe’s trio of musicians, Yann Tiersen’s quintet looked like a mob as they took the stage, but clearly not a very tough mob, as Tiersen picked up his violin and the band opened with a simple, beautiful melody, which soon turned into a wall of sound, with Tiersen moving seamlessly between instruments, set to loop and repeat.
Tiersen navigated his violin easily between mixed genres of music, his style flirting on the edges of rock, jazz, classical and folk. Early on, a technical glitch with the ukulele’s strap prompted Tiersen to comment “Yukes of Hazard,” as he tried to entertain the audience before leaping into “Dust Lane.”
Tiersen then picked up the Melodica, a kind of miniature piano with a mouthpiece, and played a little ditty before the band fell into loops of feedback while he switched out the Melodica for an electric guitar which he used to shred right through any tranquility that was still lingering in the room. Wearing his flannel shirt and wailing away, he seemed to be channeling the energy of mid-nineties grunge or trip rock.
Bringing out Andréa Moreno-Beals from Breathe Owl Breathe to join them for a single-syllable sonic excursion, she bent and twisted her way through each note with perfection. Tiersen then segued into more traditional rock with “Till the End,” running through multiple effects processors with various beeps and blips added in to layer and texture an otherwise simple tune.
After rocking the house, Tiersen switched back to violin and, with the aid of one other band member manning the Korg Keyboard, brought a temporary peace and calm to The Music Box, before he laid into the violin like it too were an electric guitar, set to pulsate, vibrate and generate massive amounts of noise.
The full band returned to perform a kind of psychedelic folk rock, a storm of musicians with Tiersen the center of the storm, ripping his violin’s bow to shreds, so that by the end of the song the now wiry bow matched the frayed hair on his head. A momentary ukulele intermission accompanied Tiersen’s switch back to an electric guitar and away they went into several more sonic excursions. Where were the simple melodies? The grand compositions? The French? This was not the Tiersen I had come to know and love. This was an entirely different beast, pushing his latest creations, a darker, rougher side then his previous work. And as if to prove this point, he closed the set with “Fuck Me.”
I felt a bit like I was witnessing a unique soul starting to conform to the sound that may place him closer to American radio, but further from what had made him so special to begin with. Nonetheless, Tiersen left the stage to a raucous applause that lasted for several minutes before returning to the stage to start quiet, but ultimately move into five minutes of just noise, which ultimately emerged as a near-closing frantic melody.
Closing on a textured electronic number that segued into, finally, snippets of the Amelie soundtrack, laid over, of all things, heavy metal undertones.
After finishing, they held the stage for a beat, taking in the cheering crowd, snapping a mental photo, and hightailing it back home.
Breathe Owl Breathe - Magic Central
More by this writer:
J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
The Drums - Live - Sept. 29, 2010
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs